I’m standing on a platform, looking down into a crowd of thugs cheering on Two-Face to execute Catwoman. My objective is to clear the room to save the feline damsel who hardly seems distressed. There’s one thug in the room who is armed, and I would have to take him out before attempting anything else. A box pops up on the screen advising me to do so. "OK!" I think to myself, as I dive face-first into the crowd... without taking out the armed man.
What ensues is a frantic struggle to fight off thugs while bullets come pelting my way. I use the grappling hook to raise myself back onto the platform, spot the gunman, knock him over but fail to take him out, he picks up his gun and resumes shooting at me. I drop back onto the ground and flail around, use the grappling hook to fly back up, drop back down, find the gunman, take him out, then find myself back on the ground. Apparently, I’m Batman, but Batman would never have done any of those things.
I am a Batman fan, but my love for him and his universe makes me the worst Batman.
My love affair with The Dark Knight began upon the discovery of the graphic novel version of Batman Returns. As a child I read it every day, cross-referencing panels with the film itself and assessing the accuracy of facial expressions. This proceeded to the almost-daily viewings of Batman Forever and Batman and Robin on VHS, supplemented by whatever comics I could get my hands on. The animated series came next as I sat in front of the television, wide-eyed and completely mesmerised by the creation of Harley Quinn and the rebooted re-telling of how Two-Face became disfigured. I later discovered the darker, grittier and haunting graphic novels of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison.
The richness of the Batman universe made it a thing worthy of study, and I studied it like the best subject that my school never offered. I came to understand the characters, and the more I learned the more real they became, like historical figures who existed in a parallel universe.
But the more I knew about Batman, the less I could be Batman. Where I could play any other game and just role-play a new character who I knew little about, I knew Batman too well. I knew where he came from, what he had to do to become a masked vigilante with super responsibility, and I even knew who he had the hots for; rather than feel empowered, this knowledge crippled me.
Perhaps it’s a testament to the authenticity of Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City that as I ran through the asylum itself in the first game and then through the city in the second, I was struck with a real sense of fear that I was in a place run by genuine psychopaths: the villains had been illustrated so well in other Batman texts that I understood what they were capable of, and their depiction in Rocksteady’s Arkham-verse was so vivid and accurate that I couldn’t help but feel that they were capable of anything. I kept expecting Batman to swoop in and save the day before remembering that it was now my responsibility to save the city — me, a person with about as much ninja training as a can of beans.
In the first 10 minutes of Arkham City I played as Bruce Wayne — I had no Bat suit, no gadgets, and for the most part my character looked like an ordinary person with a chunky neck. In these early moments of the game when Bruce wasn’t Batman, I felt somewhat in-tune with the character; my clumsiness with the controls almost seemed excusable in the context that I was just playing an ordinary man. Upon donning the Bat suit, every wall I ran into was a reminder that I was doing something that Batman would not do; that I lacked the grace and dexterity of the caped crusader. Batman was on loan to me and I was making him look really dopey.
As each game progressed, I had to train myself in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City to remember that it was just a game and that the fate of Gotham City wasn’t really at stake; I had to try and separate reality from fiction. For now, the authenticity and engrossing world of Batman: Arkham City has me hooked. I can only hope that Batman is OK with me running him into a few more walls.